South Africa in England 2012 July 17, 2012

SA our toughest challenge - Anderson


South Africa represent the toughest test of England's credentials as the No. 1 ranked Test side, according to James Anderson. However, Anderson insisted that, while in the past England may have allowed the pressure of such a high-profile series to affect their performance, they now had the weapons and the confidence to overcome the tourists.

While some may question Anderson's short-term memory - England were tested pretty thoroughly in the UAE and failed to find the correct answers - there is some truth in his words. England have won seven Test series in a row at home, with South Africa the last side to defeat them, in 2008. Whatever their problems in Asia or the Middle East, England remain a formidable side in their own conditions.

"We've been playing really well at home, but this is going to be our toughest challenge for a while," Anderson said. "But we are still confident going into it. We think we have the necessary weapons to be able to beat them. That's the way we go into most series; thinking we are going to win.

"There's not going to be time to ease into the series. We're going to have to be on top of our game from the first minute. It's going to be an intense few weeks and it's good that they're not going to be back to back Tests, as it's going to be really hard cricket. It's two of the best teams in the world. They are a strong team, they have played well in England before, we lost the last series here to them so it will be really interesting.

"In the past, maybe, the pressure might have got to me in particular, maybe a few other guys. But now it's more exciting. You want to play in big games. You want to test yourself against the best in the world, which is going to happen in this next few weeks.

"Essentially my job is the same as it has been for the last 12, 18, 24 months. I have to go out there and set the tone, take the first over and try and bowl as accurately as I can for long periods of time. There might be a bit of added pressure because it's a bigger test for us. And there might be more patience needed as they are renown for being resilient and for soaking up pressure better than most other countries. So we realise that and it's exciting more than anything as you're testing yourself against the best in the world. They have four batsmen in the top 10 in the world and it's really exciting as a bowler to be able to challenge yourself against batsmen like that."

England have one selection issue to resolve. The identity of the third seamer remains unclear, with Steven Finn, in particular, pressing hard for inclusion ahead of Tim Bresnan. If Bresnan is fully fit - and it is open to debate whether he has ever recovered full pace since undergoing elbow surgery in early December - then his superior batting will ensure his selection. If Bresnan is unable to hit the bat as hard as he used to in net sessions over the next 24 hours, however, Finn may yet still play. It is a strong side that can afford to omit such a fast bowler.

Bresnan is one of three England players to receive injections in recent days. He has had a saline injection in his elbow, Matt Prior had a similar injection in both Achilles tendons and Graeme Swann had a cortisone injection in his elbow. All three are expected to be fit, though their treatment does underline the sense that the demands on this England squad are overly onerous. These players cannot be patched up indefinitely.

The one other area that England might have concerns is their catching. Both in recent Tests and ODIs they have squandered a worrying number of chances in the slips, at gully and at point. It is, arguably, an area in which they have been weak since the departure of Paul Collingwood and, in a tight contest and against a daunting batting line-up, they know they cannot afford to reprieve the likes of Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis or AB de Villiers.

"It happens like that sometimes," Anderson said. "You go through stages of dropping catches, there's no science behind it. We practice as hard as ever and go into the match confident of being able to catch the ball. We realise that a spectacular one-handed catch might be a huge partnership breaker and a match-turning thing, so we practise really hard for those situations and hopefully we can hold on to the ball this week."

Anderson dismissed the idea that speculation over Kevin Pietersen's future would distract England. Pietersen, who indicated last week that he would be prepared to retract his limited-overs retirement if a compromise could be reached over his international schedule, may well remain the focus of discussion outside the dressing room but, in it at least, the issue will not be discussed.

"Now we've met up as a Test side, we're going to concentrate completely on it and get ready for first thing on Thursday," Anderson said. "There's often headlines around players - some more than others - so that comes with the job. Like I said, that's left outside our little bubble in the dressing room. We just talk about what we're going to do on Thursday."

The Pietersen issue will continue to fester, though. Not only are England set to name their 30-man preliminary squad for the World Twenty20 on Wednesday - a squad in which Pietersen will be noticeable by his absence - but because there is an outside possibility that this could be his last Test series.

That remains an unlikely scenario. While Pietersen has requested permission to play a whole season of IPL in 2013 - a request that is certain to be refused - that does not mean he will decline the offer of a central contract this autumn. His desire to play Test cricket, and the Ashes in particular, remains strong. Pietersen, it should be noted, has just set up his own cricket school. Presumably it will be a school with long holidays.

It is also worth reflecting on the source of recent leaks about Pietersen and their purpose: at the end of last week Pietersen was emerging as a more sympathetic figure; a highly-talented player who was keen to spend more time with his family and prolong his career through periods of rest. Now, after the suggestion that his real intention was simply to play more IPL, much of the sympathy for Pietersen has evaporated.

In that light, Anderson's comments about the ECB's handling of the situation were intriguing.

"The ECB have been very good at handling a lot of situations," Anderson said. "They've got much better in the last few years at handling certain situations. They've handled it brilliantly at the minute and I'm sure they'll continue to do that and I'll leave them to do that.

"Generally when Kevin is making the headlines he tends to play very well. So hopefully he'll continue the form he's shown this summer and get us some big runs we'll need in the middle order."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on July 19, 2012, 10:59 GMT

    @mahjut - Re Tahir being weak link - It was Proteas123 who was intimating that so apologies for associating that comment with you.

  • mahjut on July 19, 2012, 9:33 GMT

    @ JG2704 on (July 19 2012, 08:40 AM GMT) ""Rules are rules""" - only until they are changed - usually following a debate!. """If the nations who had one overseas born player in their side had 2 , then the stance from their fans would change to "It's ok to have one or 2" and so on.""" you are exactly right - which is why everyone but the English say no, and the English think it's ok, and a debate has started. People don't go for this becasue until now it's only ever been 1 (with two in a squad being unusual and 3 in the ballpark of a national team pretty unheard of), but i think the English will get some Kiwi support (the Kiwis can add de grandhomme to their two Saffers- over the formats). I never called Tahir a weak link - i rate him! ... and i am not surprised that the ECB has looked a bit more closely at this considering the demographics of county cricket...

  • John on July 19, 2012, 8:40 GMT

    @mahjut on (July 18 2012, 22:58 PM GMT) Rules are rules. If the nations who had one overseas born player in their side had 2 , then the stance from their fans would change to "It's ok to have one or 2" and so on. Trott and KP are obviously born and raised in SA. I doubt if most folk would even notice Prior or Strauss who both left SA pre teens if it wasn't for Trott and KP and the fact that we are succeeding with the players we have. I'll be honest , from an outsider's point of view I'd be more narked about Morgan who qualified for Eng within a year or so of playing his last game for Ireland. To me that is much worse as Morgan to Ireland would be a huge star whereas KP and Trott might well have just got lost in the domestic scene in SA so SA's loss is nowhere near as great as Irelands.As for Dernbach - well if you talk about Tahir being a weak link.. Also FYI ECB (under no pressure from ICC) has tightened it's rules on overseas born players qualifying to play for England

  • mahjut on July 18, 2012, 22:58 GMT

    JG2704 on (July 18 2012, 20:36 PM GMT) . Hi, i thnik the debate has gathered momentum in recent times due to numbers (and England's success of course] - which is different from the odd one or two which was accepted, if not condoned, in the last 20/30 years. SA have seldom gained players unless you count Elworthy or P Harris (bit like Prior's case though) ... but my argument is wider, England's strongest OD team may include 2 but in the last 12 months i am sure you can add KP and Dernbach ... hasn't another played (or am i thinking of the irish addition - name's gone)? so, i don;t think it's a case yet of right or wrong but as i said earlier, i think the numbers have started a principle debate. To answer your question in a nutshell - i think it has genrally been ok to have one 'foreigner' in a team but there seems to be a grassroots ('bitter'!?) fans' objection to many more than that - which may or may not lead to self-reflection in the ECB.

  • Pritthijit on July 18, 2012, 22:37 GMT

    Bring on the South Africans. Their pace attack is awesome, as Morkel and Steyn can trouble batting attacks. England form is looking formidable, but face a stern challenge this summer as South Africa will not be an easy ride. I am looking forward to an exciting series. It makes a refreshing change, as England played mediocre test teams in last home fixtures, as India and West Indies proved. The contest was far too one-sided. It will nice to see a fair contest between two strong test teams.

  • John on July 18, 2012, 20:39 GMT

    @SAFTW on (July 18 2012, 16:37 PM GMT) Absolute apologies sir. I must have pasted the wrong user name etc and can see that all you were doing was saying Amla is not Indian

  • John on July 18, 2012, 20:39 GMT

    @Proteas123 on (July 18 2012, 15:39 PM GMT) doesn't matter if he's your weakest link or the best player in your side - the situation's/principle's the same. Who's to say someone else wouldn't have come in and did a job. Trott probably wasn't most people's choice when he made his debut in 2009

  • John on July 18, 2012, 20:36 GMT

    @mahjut on (July 18 2012, 11:31 AM GMT) hello - you see it as you see it - but surely it's either wrong to play for an adopted country or it's ok. So surely if it's fine for Tahir to play for SA it should be fine for Trott or KP to play for England. Even if you disagree with those 2 examples because of timescale of qualification , Strauss and Prior grew up,were educated in England. PS 4-5 SA players in Engs one day set up. Realistically our strongest OD side would include 2 - Trott and Craig

  • I on July 18, 2012, 17:56 GMT

    @Nadeem1976 Speak for yourself, the last 18 months have thrown up some great test series. India have been the only consistent disappointment, but they did play one entertaining draw in the final test when WI toured last. Otherwise, Aus in SA was highly engrossing, NZ scored a memorable win over Australia away, Pakistan's redemption in the UAE was spectacular. There have been scrappy series, such as Pak in WI last year, Sri Lanka in the UAE. even India fighting to avoid follow ons was intriguing to watch. We've seen the rise of exciting new talents in test matches: Philander, Cummins, Junaid, the fall of greats like Dravid, Tendulkar and VVS. 2005 was almost a decade ago, there's been plenty going on since then - where have you been?

  • Sergio on July 18, 2012, 16:37 GMT

    @JG2704 on (July 18 2012, 08:11 AM GMT) I have nothing against players immigrating to countries and then playing for those countries. We don't control their lives or wishes. I was merely replying to the comment that Hashim Amla is from India. Which he is not. If you looked I did not say I was opposed to it! Just correcting someones comment. And when Trott and Pieterson left to England there really was not a place for them in the SA side, so good on them for making the right career choice. It worked out for them.

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